Going Mobile With DB2 Web Query
In Web Query, IBM has enabled numerous reporting techniques and implemented several mobile strategies that make data more accessible than ever.
By Rick Flagler04/18/2017
When The Who's Pete Townshend penned the lyrics to "Going Mobile" in the early 1970s, he was supposedly referring to life on the road and the flexibility a mobile home provided. While he couldn't possibly have foreseen how our mobile lives would evolve, we can all appreciate the flexibility and expectations we have for being mobile today.
IBM DB2 Web Query for i embraces our modern world's need for mobility. In Web Query, IBM has enabled numerous reporting techniques and implemented several mobile strategies that make data more accessible than ever. Whether users are at the office, on the road or in the air, they can get access to data and, hopefully, knowledge for better decision-making.
Users' need for readily accessible information has always motivated IBM i developers to implement creative solutions. Over time, these solutions have run the gamut from subfiles to Query/400, AFP printing and data transfer, and on to web-based tools. As the latest entry in this now lengthy line of creative solutions, Web Query stands apart because of its flexibility. With it, you might accomplish things that previously required multiple tools. Web Query reports can allow inquiry and drill-down, potentially replacing legacy programs developed with subfiles or Query/400 reports. You can create reports including images, charts and graphs, which might replace something done with AFP.
Express vs. Standard editions
The phrase "write once, run anywhere" is oft-used in technology, but it's especially appropriate for Web Query. This means once you've created a report, you don't have to change anything to make that report usable on a mobile device. Of course you'll have to take some steps to configure Web Query. As always, the particulars depend upon your site's set-up:
For Standard Edition:
- Configure Web Query to utilize your mail server
- Configure a schedule (Standard Edition) for any report, to distribute it to specific user email addresses on whatever timetable you select.
- Instruct users how to utilize a report received via email.
For any Web Query edition:
- Download the mobile app to user devices
- Configure the app on each mobile device to access your IBM i server
- Have users drag the desired report(s) to their Mobile Favorites folder in Web Query
- Instruct users how to access Web Query reports from their mobile devices.
The above might sound like a lot of work, but it isn't. Again, depending upon your Web Query installation, not all of these steps will even be necessary, but those that are can be performed quickly. Furthermore, users who are already familiar with phones or tablets will take to the Mobile Faves app in short order (see Figures 1 and 2 below). To me, some report styles or themes look more attractive on a phone or tablet than others, but that's a personal or corporate preference at design time, and one that can be addressed from a standards perspective.
Your first decision point is usually whether you have the Express or Standard edition of DB2 Web Query for i.
If you have the Express edition, you won't have the ability to use the report scheduler, so skip that step and go to your mobile device, download the Mobile Faves app and configure it to access Web Query over the Internet.
This is a simple matter of setting your device to point to the IP address and port. Of course if VPN access is used, this must be addressed in your mobile device settings (and once complete, it likely won't impact Web Query).
With either the Express or Standard edition, users can open Mobile Faves and see the configured company server as an entry. Selecting it allows any report that was previously dragged into the Mobile Favorite folder on their on the corporate portal page to be viewed/run (see Figure 3 below). This is important: Mobile app users will only see reports placed in this folder! Realize this type of viewing is via a connected session. If Wi-Fi or cellular connections aren't available, the app issues a "Check your connection to the Internet" warning and displays the IBM i server as "not available" (N/A). When a connection is made, and the user/password is saved, the app connects when the user touches the line for the company server. Then it displays the user's available folders and reports.
As each report is touched, the reports are expanded and run in the app with data retrieved from the IBM i system (see Figure 4 below).
Standard Edition offers another way to get reports to users. This option steps things up, adding the capability for disconnected operation. With access to the report scheduler (which you or someone else may have configured as you installed Web Query), you can establish an event to email a report to a user. This is referred to as the Email channel (see Figure 5 below). In this case, the report recipient need not be connected to the IBM i server; the report arrives via email (a normal email connection is obviously required for this), and the user can open the report in a disconnected state thereafter as needed. This is particularly valuable for dedicated road warriors who spend so much time in a disconnected status, perhaps in planes, trains and automobiles.
When Mobile app users receive email containing a report from Web Query, they select the attachment and view options to open it. One option is the Mobile Faves app. All emailed reports are displayed in the app, under the Email channel, until the user removes them.
Regardless of how the user accesses the report, whether by selecting in Mobile Faves or clicking an email attachment, the resulting view is pretty much the same, as illustrated in Figure 4 above.
Report Scheduling and More
Configuring report scheduling is fairly straightforward. First, enter your email server into Web Query, including any necessary user ID or password for that server. This is a one-time administrator function. Whether your email server is on Power Systems or another platform, Web Query can manage it.
Subsequent report scheduling is also simple. Any users with scheduling responsibilities can establish a schedule for reports (see Figure 6 below). From the Web Query portal, just right-click the report and select the Schedule option. This prompts for choices about delivery methods to distribute the report. For email, you have the flexibility for single recipient address or a pre-created distribution list. You must also specify if this is a one-time email or establish a schedule for future timed-basis delivery (with granularity of dates and times). Report distribution and scheduling is actually a detailed topic that honestly merits a future article. For now I'll simply say that if your manager wants a report available on her iPad each Monday at 9 a.m., Web Query scheduling can handle this with ease.
Whether the report is in a top-level or underlying folder, the schedule object, when saved, will appear in the portal as a named entry. I usually leave the name default the same as the report, which causes them to listed adjacently in the portal, though I've also seen installations where all schedules are stored in a separate folder.
What about mobile access via just a browser, or via just email? How about stakeholders who don't have access to your system? With Web Query Standard Edition, corporate stakeholders who aren't employees, such as vendors or customers, can receive reports using the email capabilities of Web Query. For various reports, such as those using PDF, HTML or Active report types, you can just schedule the report to run and specify the email address/group. Recipients don't need a Web Query license or the Mobile Faves app to view what they've received; they simply open the report attachment in their default browser. To obtain a list of supported browsers from IBM at any time, read the HotFix letter for your Web Query version.
When consumers view Active reports, they can manipulate the enclosed data with sort, filter, chart and rollup options, provided as the report author grants these functions for the specific report. Each Active report includes an options list, completed at report creation time, which allows the creator to determine which functions are available to users. This is accomplished by using a number of checkboxes to select roles or customization options. A report creator might decide that the monthly sales report should expire 30 days from date of issue (see Figure 7 below), that it needs to be password-protected, or that the consumer should not be allowed to export report data to Excel. If you have any of these requirements, you'll find the granularity to set these execution options quite handy.
Other possible mobile approaches include using the scheduling function in Standard Edition to post report information to a location where consumers can access it on-demand. Output of reports or charts to file types such as PDF or PNG might make it easy to build a site that receives auto-updates from Web Query. The scheduler enables downloading of reports from Web Query to other locations, such as a website without a working link to Web Query. In that scenario, you might "push" content on a timed schedule from Web Query to a file server directory via FTP. The target directory―for example, a directory in your IBM i Integrated File System (IFS)―could then utilize a web server to allow authorized users to view metrics, charts and reports, or to print or download content.
These are just some of the possibilities that emerge when you "go mobile" with DB2 Web Query for i.
Rick Flagler is an information technology consultant, teacher and mentor.